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The Republic of

 

Georgia is nearly twice the size of Azerbaijan with 69, 700 square kilometers, bordered by Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia and the Black Sea. With nearly 5 million people, 70% are ethnic Georgians practicing Georgian orthodoxy. Georgians tend to be conservative and very friendly and hospitable. The Georgian language is one of the oldest languages in the world, with it's own beautiful script.

Last year, Georgia was on the brink of yet another potential civil war, when Shevardnadze peacefully stepped down and has been replaced by a 36 year old young, liberal minded President, Mikhael Saakashvili. He has his work cut out for him after decades of corruption and nepotism countrywide. Over 50% of the country works in agriculture, with wine, tea and citrus fruits the dominant crops.

Georgia is a beautiful country with a Mediterranean climate including mountains, lakes, rolling hills, green pastures and some subtropical pockets. The food and wine are outstanding, the quaint little stone villages reminded me of European towns. I can imagine a countryside filled with bed and breakfasts!

Georgia is not exempt from tumult, with some difficult times in the early 1990's during transition. The disputed territory of Abkhazia has left Georgia without a railroad line to the north, creating a need to divert trade east before going north to Moscow. The only other option is a small road through the mountains, where Chechen rebels hide out. The capital, Tbilisi, is one of the oldest cities in the region, with 400-500 year old churches and buildings built right into the stone walls along the river.

In 2002, I worked with young entrepreneurs who started the first frozen fruit/vegetable processing plant in Georgia. The abundance of rich lands is unfortunately outweighed by the collapse of the collective Soviet farming system. There are so many individual farmers with no capital and most land goes underused. Most farmers plant cheap easy crops to bring in the minimum, but reliable, profits to sustain themselves and their families. This startup was working hard to develop a vertically integrated system of seed purchase, planting, harvesting, freezing and marketing a variety of crops, familiar and new.

Georgia's wine industry is one of the oldest in the world, and their lively culture revolves around the consumption of wine and making toasts on all occasions. Experts from California as well as other countries have gone to Georgia to advise and develop their industry for export. There are some excellent wines that have international recognition and are gaining in prestige worldwide. Their largest export market is, of course, Russia. You can find Georgian wines at local Russian stores in America, but my dream is to see fabulous Sapareli or Mukuzani wines at Trader Joe's for under $8.00 a bottle! Any venture capitalists out there?!

Statistics, map and flag come from the CIA world fact book. You can visit their web site at http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/fact book/index.html